Raila, Ruto flex muscle in battle for Trans Nzoia governor seat

George Natembeya.

Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa(left) and former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Trans Nzoia gubernatorial contest has narrowed down to a two-horse race between Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party and Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

With businessman Moses Khaoya and retired Air Force officer Philemon Samoei—former Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and United Democratic Alliance (UDA) governor aspirants respectively—stepping down in favour of former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya of Democratic Action Party-Kenya (DAP-K), the race has been turned into a supremacy battle between Azimio coalition, led by ODM chief Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza.

“We’re in a competition with our opponents and there’s no need to compete among ourselves. Therefore, Azimio will only have one candidate for governor race, who is George Natembeya,” Mr Odinga said after he brokered a deal between Mr Natembeya and Mr Khaoya at Sirwo Resort during a meeting with opinion leaders.

The Kenya Kwanza team was dealt a major blow after three of its key members, who were eyeing the deputy governor position, ditched Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa’s camp for Mr Natembeya.

Mr Samoei, who was ‘denied’ the UDA ticket for the governor’s seat, and Mr Kipkoech arap Mutai, Ms Julian Kichwen and Ms Teresa Metto, who were eyeing the running mate position under UDA, decided to back Mr Natembeya after Mr Wamalwa unveiled his running mate, former high school principal Bethwel Kirior.

Mr Wamalwa has since replaced Mr Kirior with Ms Joyce Keter after the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission took issue with his late resignation as a teacher as stipulated in the law.

Mr Samoei had been asked to strike a deal with Mr Wamalwa of Ford-Kenya but declined.

UDA and Ford-Kenya belong to the Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

Others eyeing the governor seat are Mr Jim Wakhungu Nduruchi (Independent), Prof Ben Wanjala (Independent) and Wycliffe Eshiwani (Independent).

Offer services

Mr Natembeya has assured residents that his government would be inclusive.

“My objective is to have all the communities on board. I want to offer services to the people instead of seeking power for the sake of it,” he said.

He’s banking on his vast experience as a national government administrator, where he rose to the position of Regional Commissioner, before he quit to venture into politics.

Mr Natembeya accuses local leaders of failing to address land-related issues, including lack of title deeds and the squatter problem.

He says his administration will prioritise the establishment of health centres and dispensaries in each ward to bring services closer to residents.

Mr Natembeya picked former banker Philomena Bineah Kapkory for running mate with an eye on Sabaot and Nandi votes.

Mr Wamalwa, who is popular among the Sabaot, is banking on his 10 years experience as an MP to oversee the county’s development. “I’ve been at the forefront in empowering women, youth and the elderly across the county using my own resources,” he said.

Mr Wamalwa has promised to set up a special fund to spur economic growth if he succeeds Governor Patrick Khaemba in the August 9 polls. The fund will enable entrepreneurs to secure loans to expand their businesses unlike loans that attract huge interest rates, he said.

The Ford-Kenya secretary-general has promised to complete all pending projects, saying he would build on the foundation Governor Khaemba laid during his two terms in office.

Mr Nduruchi is a cleric, philanthropist and director of the Rise Up Society, an anti-jigger charity. He first ran for governor in Bungoma as an independent candidate in 2017, and came fourth.

He relocated to Trans Nzoia County and teamed up with international volunteers to build houses for the poor, as well as orphanages. He also sponsored 13,000 children through various levels of education.

The cleric-turned-politician has been involved in the anti-jigger campaign in Machewa, Tulwet, Mowlem, Kimondo and many other areas in the five sub-counties of Trans Nzoia.

The chairman of independent candidates in the North Rift region has picked Mr Luke Naibei, a Sabaot, as his running mate.

“I’m an alternative voice and my choice of a Sabaot as my deputy will guarantee me many votes from the region,” Mr Nduruchi said.

Prof Wanjala is a first-time governor candidate. He previously served as chief officer in charge of Agriculture and later Finance.

Prof Wanjala and his running mate, Mr Tyson Simiyu Wanyama, are campaigning on a platform of fighting tribalism. He also promises to end corruption and insecurity in Trans Nzoia.

“If elected governor, I’ll focus on key sectors of our economy, starting with commerce and industry. I’ll revisit the maize milling plant project and build a fertiliser factory to enable commercial activities to thrive,” he said.

Prof Wanjala, a Bukusu like Mr Wamalwa, Mr Natembeya and Mr Nduruchi, said he was motivated to run after seeing the county’s economic fortunes dwindle.

‘Reclaim, restore...’

He is seeking the electorate’s mandate to ‘reclaim, restore and modernise’ the county he says is ranked last among the 47 counties.

“My decision to contest the governorship was not a random one but it was a decision I reached after wide consultation with the people of Trans Nzoia,” he said.

Mr Eshiwani studied at the University of Nairobi and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in urban Health Policy and Research.

He has lived and studied in the United States where he graduated in Engineering, IT Planning and Governance. He is the patron of the EFoundation.Org.

Underdevelopment, unemployment, lack of industries and value addition for the maize produce, and poor agriculture performance in general, are among the issues likely to shape the campaigns.

Health is another sector that will be keenly observed by the electorate to determine who among the candidates has what it takes to offer suitable solutions.

Other issues include road network, early childhood education, vocational training, and market linkages for farmers and public service management.

Political affiliation, ethnicity, and the agenda of aspirants will also influence who becomes the next governor.

Ford-Kenya has been the dominant party in the region. However, Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, who is associated with the DAP-K party, is rallying residents to change course, claiming that Ford-Kenya is to blame for the county’s underdevelopment.

‘Failed in the past’

“For Trans Nzoia to witness change, Ford-Kenya must not be given a chance to produce leaders in this county since they’ve failed in the past.

“We want a leader who is development-conscious,” Mr Wamalwa said recently.

However, Ford-Kenya party leader Moses Wetang’ula is rooting for Mr Wamalwa, saying he has what it takes to transform the county.

“We in Kenya Kwanza are committed to achieving transformation in this country through the right leadership. We call on residents to support our candidates,” Mr Wetang’ula said.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission registered 339,622 voters in Trans Nzoia for the August 8, 2017 polls.

Mr Khaemba of Ford-Kenya was re-elected governor alongside his deputy Stanley Kiptoo Tarus.

Governor Khaemba defeated four other candidates, garnering 135,325 (55 per cent) of the valid votes cast.

His closest challenger was Mr Maurice Kakai Bisau (Jubilee Party) who got 38 per cent of the votes.

Mr Bisau has since shelved his governor ambitions to vie for the Kiminini parliamentary seat.

TOMORROW: Bungoma County, where a 2017 re-match between Governor Wycliffe Wangamati and Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka is on.